This Week in Geek (7-13/11/21)


In theaters: The MCU movie no one was excited to see, Eternals may just have turned out to be one of the best-written of the franchise's efforts. It certainly doesn't follow the standard superhero story formula, and if it's long to accommodate 7000 years of flashbacks, it uses a lot of that real estate to make you get to know and care for the large cast of characters. It's successful in that it gives you time enough to change your mind about some characters, whether you initially liked them or not. At its core, Eternals is a celebration of humanity, warts and all. The film tries to be all-encompassing on that score, so it's not content to show one time, one place, one culture, but many. Its cast provides a cross-section of ethnicities, accents, genders, sexual orientiations, abilities and disabilities, and perhaps most germane to the story, philosophies. This last one is what drives the action and provides surprises. What is one's relationship to humanity when one has been exposed to its entire history - humanist love? Contempt? Would you want to control things, integrate, or live as far away from it as you could? There isn't a monolithic Eternal ethos. Favorite characters? I think there's a reason to feel for each of them, but Angelina Jolie's Thena was a big hit in my group, as were the necessary comedy stylings of Kumail Nanjiani. Makkari out-Flashes Justice League's Flash (I mean, this movie already killed DC's New Gods flick, and it brazenly goes after Superman, Wonder Woman and the Flash). Phaestos is really cool too. If you're a comics fan of a certain age, I think there's even more to be gotten out of it. The Eternals and Deviants have very much been reinvented, but - and I know even comics fans aren't generally Eternals fans - I like how it subtly pays lip service to the original stories and relationships. But the writers obviously read late-80s Avengers (for Sersi and Gilgamesh) because they introduce elements from that not-so-classic era of the book. A bit shoehorned in, but once we get to the mid- and post-credit scenes, it made me quite gleeful.

At home: Throwing off some pretty strong 90s Mummy vibes at first, Jungle Cruise also has a lot in common with Pirates of the Caribbean and more pointedly, with Disney's animated movies. It's a cartoon in all but medium. It's all "acting for kids", bad puns, pee jokes, obvious music cues, slapstick, and caricatured villains... oh, and a CG animal sidekick. If this were an animated film, it would have worked fine. As live action, the boat is pitching at younger than I can set my brain (and how's that for a bad pun). But then, should we expect much depth from a movie based on a ride (and there are some fun references to it, I'm told)? The story takes adventurers played by some perfectly pleasant stars down the Amazon to find the Tree of Immortality (so it's The Fountain for kiddies), which is a pretty good "Indiana Jones" quest. The plot relies a bit heavily on narration at times, has one villain too many, and certainly forces the multiple happy endings, but the biggest question it leaves on the table for me is how this will be received by British children given that the Rock calls Emily Blunt "pants" through 90% of the picture.

 I was always one to think I'd had enough of The Office after watching the British version, so how do 9 seasons of the American iteration stack up? Well, there were times in the past few weeks chugging it that I wondered if I could make it through. My problem? Michael Scott. It's like that gave him the character traits that made Ricky Gervais' David Brent a compelling loser, but also made him extra stupid and childish - a far more obvious caricature - and while his more human moments were highlights, I was often frustrated by the repeated motif of his narcissistic tantrums. Similarly, I couldn't never figure out why they spent so much time on the despicable Ryan. I was much more interested in "the little people" of the office, who seemed less extreme in comparison (or at least more fun to discover), though of course, who can't feel sympathy for the excruciating Jim and Pam relationship - it's just that you kind of know where it's going, albeit at a snail's pace. Frustrations aside, the show did manage to make me laugh and cry, and whether one likes it or not, it was a game changer for American sitcoms. Not only did it launch a number of careers, but its documentary style was used in new projects that became big hits themselves. I was shocked last year when my early-20s boarder walked into the living room and asked why Battlestar Galactica was shot like a sitcom, so... I'd wondered why Parks & Recs and Brooklyn 99 did actually acknowledge a documentary crew, but I see it now. The Office did, and actually used it as part of the narrative in a big way during its last season. They didn't want to repeat that. I do like those last couple seasons despite the character turnover (hey, no Michael Scott, so it becomes much more of an ensemble piece), and that last one in large part BECAUSE it pays off the documentary. You spend these many episodes investing in a cast of characters, the last few are going to hit hard. Shows are sometimes unmade by their finales, but The Office really hit it out of the park, a real symphony of grace notes.

50 Years of Horror/2009: There are a lot of favorites in Daybreakers - Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill - and without them, I'm not sure how watchable the movie is. The world created by the Spierig brothers IS an intriguing one, giving vampires a World War Z treatment and coming up with a dystopian near-future where a vampire "plague" has turned 95% of humanity into undead bloodsuckers. Except that means the food supply is running out and Hawke's character could be the one to crack the blood substitute formula... unless he falls in with the human resistance. Taking a swipe a Big Pharma while it's at it, the movie takes aim at how the Top 1% are screwing up the planet, but only on a surface level. In fact, I was almost surprised to find this didn't start out as a Young Adult novel (albeit one without YA protagonists) given how the premise and the solutions are so simplistic. They stop at "concept" and undermine the world building for me. Still a slick sf-action-horror film, but with that cast especially, it could have been more.
Also from that year: Antichrist, Zombieland, Jennifer's Body, Drag Me to Hell

2010: The Crazies must be the weirdest episode of Justified ever. But seriously, folks, it's a remake of a 1970s Romero I've yet to see, about a chemical spill that turns people into homicidal maniacs, which our heroes would have an easier time getting away from if the military wasn't trying to contain and cover the whole thing up. I don't know if the latter is an interesting quirk - soldiers who in other movies might be the heroes as the side, even main monster - or if it gets in the way of the horror. Kind of turns into an action thriller with obnoxious jump scares. Are jump scares a cheat? Well, consider that this is a movie that presents bloodless charnel houses so that seeing dead bodies is more of a shock, so yes. In fact, gratuitous jump scares are why I can't quite recommend the movie, despite a number of fun gags I haven't seen before (the bone saw, the car wash, the garage fight). The Crazies sometimes goes for broke, but it also doesn't trust its own tension and scares, and that's too bad.
Actual best from that year: Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, Troll Hunter, Rubber, I Saw the Devil